The tenuous physicality of motherhood

This is my every morning.  I park the car, we walk into school, first to Whit’s building, and then to Grace’s.  I always trail them up these steps, for some reason, watching their bodies skipping towards the door.  Lately I’ve had the physicality of motherhood (and childhood) on my mind, and it is never more apparent than those moments when I watch their ever-lengthening bodies walking away from me.

We’ve been listening to Love Came Down at Christmas in the car, which Whit loves because it’s “the song he was the drum for.”  Last week, one morning, we had a very detailed conversation about my pregnancies with each of them.  Whit knows he kicked every time that carol came on and Grace, with her razor-sharp focus on fairness, wanted to know what song made her kick.  I don’t know, I told her honestly.  I went on to tell her about a day I’ll never forget, at my friend Schuyler’s wedding, in the summer of 2002, when I hadn’t felt Grace (then known as Finbar, gender unknown) for a while and sat on a couch prodding my stomach, my entire world narrowing for the first time to a beam of frantic concern about my child.  Okay, she said, satisfied that there was also a story about her inside my belly.

I watch them walk away and I think about all those days when I felt their little feet in my ribcage, when I watched an arm, a knee, an elbow, turn over inside me, a knobby piece of a yet-unknown person bulging against my domed skin as it did so.  Just as everyone cautioned, it’s hard to remember exactly what that felt, having a new life swimming inside of me.  While I know it was both miraculous and uncomfortable, I wish I remembered more precise details.

The intense physical union of pregnancy gives way, in a moment as brilliant and searing as lightning, to a time of continued bodily intertwined-ness.  I miss those days, too, in an odd, grateful, relieved kind of way.  And then, as the years of childhood unfurl, gradual but indeniable physical separation occurs.  I know there will be a day when my children don’t want me to curl up in bed with them.  A day when they will close the doors of their rooms and retreat to a world where I am not welcome.  A day when Whit’s first request, upon stubbing a toe, is no longer “will you kiss it, Mummy?”

I fear and dread that day, but I ought not let that keep me from imagining what is right now.  Isn’t this one of the central themes of my life?  The way I sometimes let fear of what is coming occlude the brightness of the moment?  Instead of falling into this familiar groove, allowing myself to be engulfed by an anticipated loss, may I instead lean into what is true right now.  Last night I tucked Grace in and discovered that she was clutching a tank top of mine; I hadn’t put her to bed, and in my absence she had gone into my closet and pulled out a piece of my clothing to hold close.  Whit still lets me wash his hair and soap his back in the bathtub, and each time I admit I wonder if this is the last time.  How long will the simple fact of my physical presence be enough to soothe whatever it is that upsets my children?

I want to stop that wondering and abandon myself to what is.  It’s so hard for me to do this.  But as I watch Grace’s feet grow and grow, edging into territory where our flip-flops could be confused for each other’s, and as Whit’s teeth fall out, I feel a vague panic about the future encroaching on the present.  I suspect part of this is my own deep longing for a day when concerns and anxieties could be so easily solved, in the body of a parent, in a kiss, in a sweet-dreams-head-rub.  The solution to this panic, I know, is the most counter-intuitive thing for me: I ought to turn away from it and curl into right now.  All I can do is try.

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  1. Posted December 5, 2011 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    “Isn’t that one of the central themes of my life? The way I sometimes let fear of what is coming occlude the brightness of the moment? Instead of falling into this familiar groove, allowing myself to be engulfed by an anticipated loss, may I instead lean into what is true right now.”
    This is, exactly, me.
    I am always missing out on life now because I am fearing what could be, might be, will be. Living in the present, fully immersed in it…this is what I am constantly striving for.

  2. Posted December 5, 2011 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the physicality of motherhood this year as I push strollers up steep hills and carry much-too-big kids on my shoulders when they get tired. It’s like a whole new era of using a mother’s body to take care of the kids’ bodies. Great post! I remember Finbar…

  3. Trish
    Posted December 5, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    This really spoke to me:

    The way I sometimes let fear of what is coming occlude the brightness of the moment?


  4. Posted December 5, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    So, so true. And so beautifully expressed, as always. I want to print this out and tape it to my fridge:

    “Instead of falling into this familiar groove, allowing myself to be engulfed by an anticipated loss, may I instead lean into what is true right now. ”

    As my girls edge into five, I’m trying to cherish — and not complain or tell them ‘no’ — every time they crawl up into my lap, even if it’s while I’m trying to eat breakfast or type something on mu computer. It won’t be long until they don’t do it anymore.

    The anticipated loss does, at least, have the effect of prompting appreciation of the moment. They are two sides of the same coin.

  5. Posted December 5, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    simply…yes. thank you, lindsey. intending to ‘curl into right now’ with you again and again today.

  6. Ash
    Posted December 5, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Am sitting here with my own Finbar (coincidentally a name I am bandying about for my son-to-be) raising the coffee mug I have resting on my expanisve stomach. Just last night I said to my husband how I love the visceral comfort of snuggling with our daughter and sadly, how fleeting those moments are. We’re secretly hoping her sibling jealousy provokes increased snuggling in the future.

  7. Posted December 5, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    A beautiful reminder, as always. The title of this post is so true and striking. I love reading your writing. It helps me slow down.

  8. Posted December 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    What wonderful thoughts. And I so enjoyed remembering with you the feeling of having a babe in my belly. Amazing, isn’t it!? How quickly it seems like forever ago…

  9. Posted December 5, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    After spending a much needed alone with my youngest son, a post like this feels all the more acute. For some reason, when I’m focused on only one I’m reminded of all the moments that pass so quickly. When I’m with just one I feel like I’m better at stopping and noticing and then everything feels different, like all the times before when it was all of us were a blur. All this to say I understand, and I try very hard like you to just “curl into it now.”

  10. Posted December 5, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    It’s so amazing, your kiddos are a bit older than mine, but yesterday I found myself taking picture of my son’s shoes. My twins are 2 and I looked at them knowing he is getting bigger and my heart momentarily weeped ever so slightly that his babyness would someday fade away. I can imagine this only intensifies as you suggest as they get older. Because I have twins and my daughter is slightly delayed, she is still like a baby for all that is good and challenging and with this I sometimes long for her future independence, even if it’s to hold her own bottle.
    All this is just to say, I don’t think there can be any right or wrong way to treasure your moments. They are yours and yours alone and we allowed to cherish, and long and worry and treasure yet again. Sometimes it’s this fear that gives us the perspective we need to remember to cherish our wee ones just as they are.
    Thank you for this lovely post…I just found you tonight, but am very happy I did.

  11. Renae C
    Posted December 6, 2011 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    It doesn’t necessarily come as fast as you might think. My 12 1/2 year old still craves physical presence and catches me often from behind in an unexpected arm-pinning hug. She still holds on to her song at night. She still has her wholly hole-y blankets from babyhood in her bed. We’ll see what the true teenage years bring, but I think some parents pull away from their children as they morph into an adult frame. I’m going to refuse to do that and see where openness to continuing the physicality of the connection will take us. I missed – and still miss – arms to hold me and a lap to crawl up in. I am determined they will not miss that because it wasn’t available to them whenever they needed it.

  12. Posted December 7, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    You do such a magnificent job in your posts–and especially in this one–of describing with careful detail and accuracy what so many of us feel. One thing that’s been so interesting about having a baby with bigger kids in the house is that older two (7 & 5) are so fascinated with the physical stuff–like how they couldn’t sit on my lap and now they can, for example. But they’re especially curious now about their own baby selves, like you described above.

    I’m rambling. Just trying to say–beautiful post.